The hour long Facebook live event came hours after Senate Republican leaders announced a delay on the vote for their long-awaited plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare”.
A vote on the bill will now have to wait until after the Congress’s July 4th recess.
Senator Tester told town hall viewers online during his opening remarks that the bill does "pretty bad things," and Republican leaders realized they didn’t have the votes to get it passed this week.
"It has been a busy day in Washington D.C. today," Tester said. "The leader delayed the vote on the healthcare bill for a number of reasons. It is a very very flawed bill."
The first question Tester fielded from the more than 5,000 viewers of the event asked the senator to justify why he wouldn’t support the Republican healthcare bill when the current healthcare system is failing.
"Look we can make anything fail if we put our minds to it," Tester answered. "But we can also make everything work if we are willing to work together. My suggestion was let’s work together and fix what is wrong with the ACA, and move forward. This Senate bill is not a step forward. To think that this bill is better than a failing system, this makes it far worse than what we have now.”
Earlier this week the Congressional Budget Office released a report stating that the Senate healthcare bill would result in millions more uninsured Americans over the next decade compared to the current law.
One town hall viewer asked what the Congressional Budget Office is and what it means when a bill receives a score from the CBO.
"It’s a nonpartisan group; they do analysis on bills all the time in the Senate," Tester said. "But what that CBO score is meant to be used for is to determine the real impacts of a bill, before it's passed the body; so that when we vote on it, we can’t say, 'oh, gosh, I didn’t know it was going to decrease Medicare'. Same thing about 22 million people losing insurance; probably mostly Medicaid expansion folks.”
Tester says some lawmakers trust the CBO differently and tend to evaluate its worth depending on how favorably they rate certain bills.
Others in the online town hall wanted to know how health care premiums would be impacted if bill passed.
"I think if you’re in your 20s you might see your premiums drop," said Tester. "But if you’re in your 50s or 60s, you may see your premiums go up significantly. That’s not just a little bit, that’s a lot. Absolutely, some winners and some losers. But I’ll also tell you this bill does nothing — and I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — it does nothing for those folks who are paying too high of premiums with too high of deductibles; which is really what I hear mostly when I go on the ground in Montana."
A woman wrote in saying she’d heard that the health care proposal would give tax breaks to insurance companies and wealthy people. She asked Tester to explain.
"I can tell you that if you have investment income over $200,000, — over $200,000 of investment income — you get a tax break. If you make over $5,000,000; in about 8 years you’ll get a tax break of about $250,000. So, this is giving tax breaks to the folks who, quite frankly, probably need them the least,” Tester answered.
Tester’s staff selected questions for the senator to answer from the many posted in the chat fed on Facebook, in no particular order.
Some asked if the bill would expand health coverage for veterans; and Tester said it wouldn’t. Others asked about a single payer option or universal health care. Those questions were not brought up or answered by Senator Tester.
Some of the town hall viewers posted thanking Tester for taking the time to speak with them, and expressing support for the Affordable Care Act. Others vented frustration about the lack of progress on health care policy by Congress. And some criticized Tester for his support of the ACA, which they said isn’t helping their situation.
Tester is nearing the end of his second term in the U.S. Senate and beginning to campaign for a third. Although the Republicans have yet to select a candidate to challenge Tester in 2018, that race is already heating up, as three Republicans have announced their intention to run against him.
Republican Steve Daines, Tester’s Montana counterpart in the U.S. Senate, will host a tele-town hall Wednesday, June 28 at 6:15 p.m. To register for the call, text "SenatorDaines" as one word to 82-82-82 or call any of Daines’ offices.
Look/listen for MTPR's coverage of the Daines event on Thursday.